Dawn Bordeau and Scott Jones of Milton were already in line for 3.5 hours when the doors to Milton’s new Hannaford grocery store opened last Saturday morning.
The duo arrived at 3:20 a.m. to stand in line.
“We were awake,” Bordeau said at 5:45 a.m. “We thought it would be something fun to do other than watching the news.”
More than 500 people had joined the couple by 8 a.m., an hour after the store at 259 Route 7 South opened in the new Milton Square Plaza, developed by real estate magnate Ernie Pomerleau. The 47,000-square-foot market added half the retail space of the former store.
Early risers lined the sidewalk until it ended, forcing the queue to snake around the corner toward McDonald’s. Bordeau and Jones’ friends brought a tailgate toss game to pass the time. It took 40 minutes to get the whole line inside, Store Manager Mike Eastman said.
“It’s like Best Buy on Black Friday,” said Rick Wilson, category manager for Hannaford meat departments. Wilson traveled from corporate headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. to open Milton’s store. He’s overseen Food Lion store openings, but Saturday was his first Hannaford experience.
“I expected to see a few people coming out,” he said. “That was crazy. The groceries will still be here at lunchtime.”
The day began with a sunrise flag-raising by Milton Cub Scout Pack 43 and Troop 603 and a brief ribbon-cutting by Deb Fortin and Bob Murray, whose combined 95 years of service date back to the Grand Union that formerly occupied the old store.
Eastman signaled the crowd it was time: “Here we go!” he said, and District Manager Andy Willette opened the doors.
The Hannaford crew was prepared: Cashiers were at the ready like sentries at lookout posts, waiting for the inevitable rush at the checkout lines. Ryan Nichols, a Milton High School senior, arrived at 6:30 a.m. and was prepared to fill a full shift that day.
“We’ve been waiting for this a long time,” he said.
Shoppers’ excitement was obvious as they traversed much wider aisles with greater variety than the former store, which officially closed for business Friday night at 6 p.m. Many were excited about the expanded produce and seafood sections.
Jones and Bordeau looked forward to a larger meat department, which they said gets picked over on big barbecue weekends.
Cathy Stout of Milton was thrilled with the new sushi bar, where she bought two selections for dinner Saturday night. Sherre Ross of Milton was excited about the possibility of finding gluten-free items and was psyched chicken breasts were on sale for 88 cents a pound.
“I can’t afford to go down to Healthy ‘Wealthy’ Living in South Burlington,” Ross said. “If I could get the stuff here, it would be great.”
The first 300 customers were given gift cards ranging from $5 to $250, and the next 100 got coupons. The grand prize, a $1,000 gift card, will be awarded in November.
“[We’ve gotten] a lot of positive feedback,” Eastman said on Monday, “a lot of new faces.”
See more photos from the day below: